Wednesday, September 3, 2014

When I was sexually assaulted

Be warned, I describe a sexual assault in this piece.

When I was ten years old I was sexually assaulted by a boy five years older than myself. It was late Autumn, and very cold. The air was crisp and dry, and the last of the un-raked leaves were still scattered on some people's lawns. My walk from Lippitt Elementary School to my house was about a half mile. For about half the walk I had a friend with me. We would split up and go our separate ways after crossing the only really busy intersection on our route, which in hindsight wasn't a busy intersection at all. This was Warwick, Rhode Island in 1973, in a suburbia of housing developments built on long dead farms and swampland near the airport. It wasn't that busy between 3 and 4pm.

Bullies were common, and adults, specifically parents, teachers and neighbors, did almost nothing to stop them. Bullies would jump you and beat you up for no real reason other than to jump you and beat you up. I was a frequent target of bullies when I was younger. I was the only boy my age in the advanced readers group until fifth grade. The other five or six members of my reading group were girls. Playing on my last name and the fact that I read books like a girl, kids would corrupt my name as "Ahlqueer." I got beat up all through first grade by this second grader across the street named Joe, but he moved away the following year. Other bullies saw me as a target, but I mostly kept my head down and avoided confrontation. I didn't have many friends, but the kid I walked halfway home with, James, was also the target of bullies, and this united us though we had almost nothing else in common.

We separated, James going his way and me mine. Then I saw Mike, and his two friends. Mike was five years older than me, a wiry freckled red head with an always furrowed brow. He always looked like he was thinking hard about confusing things. I barely knew him, but his father and my father were both firefighters. I had seen Mike less than a month previously at an event where firefighters were being honored and promoted. Mike’s father outranked my Dad. The fathers introduced us to each other, but Mike was older and uninterested in me, which was fine, since I was younger and shy.

Seeing Mike today, in my neighborhood, on my way home, was surprising, but I had no reason to suspect he had any malice for me. I was all alone and Mike, as I said, had two friends with him, both his age. I said hi or hello and thought I was going to walk past when all of a sudden the three larger boys moved to block my path. I didn't know why they we're looking for trouble with me, and really, what trouble could I give them?

They started with the taunts and insults, nothing I couldn't handle. I wanted to get past them but they said that if I ran they would beat me up. I could never have outrun them anyway. They were long legged teenagers and I was still a kid.

I should also point out that if I got home too late, I would get in trouble with my parents. Explaining that three bigger boys delayed me would only result in my father shaming me for not properly standing up to the bullies, a refrain I learned all too well in first grade when that kid Joe would beat me up. It got to the point that I wouldn't say anything about the bullying to my parents, just so I wouldn't have to hear my father tell me to start standing up for myself. Worse than being abused, in some ways, is being told that the abuse is your own fault.

The three teenage boys in front of me now were going to make me late. I needed to get past them. When I tried to move around them, they stood in my way. So I had to try and talk my way past them.

"I have to get home, guys."

"Where's that?"

Shit. They didn't know where I lived, and I didn't want to tell them. The less they knew about me, the better.

I pointed in the general direction of my house. "That way," I said.

One of the boys I didn't know told Mike to just beat me up already. Mike stepped forward, and I raised my Hot Wheels lunchbox.

"You better not hit me with that,” said Mike.

"I have to go home," I said.

Mike swung and hit me in the arm. I hit him back with my Hot Wheels lunchbox and ran.

I didn't get far. The two kids backing Mike up had me in two steps. They were gigantic compared to me, faster and stronger in every way, and there were two of them. They knocked me down and then Mike was on top of me, hitting me. Somehow I got up and ran, but now Mike grabbed me from behind, wrapping his arms around me, somehow pinning my arms with his elbows (or maybe the other boys were holding my arms at this point, it's hard to remember).

I was braced for a beating, but Mike did something I could never have imagined doing to another person. I've still never really heard of anyone doing this to someone in the way it was done to me. Mike reached his hands into my pants, into my underwear, and grabbed my scrotum. Then he found my testicles, and squeezed them with his fingers, rolling them and squeezing them hard. I could smell the cigarettes on his breath as he efficiently tortured me.

I couldn't believe what was happening. The attack was so targeted, and unimaginable. He reached into my pants and explored my genitalia with his fingers until he found my testicles, the spot that would hurt me the most, and then proceeded to squeeze them for no purpose other than to cause me pain.

I cried out and screamed. The pain was blinding, in that bright lights filled my eyes, obscuring my vision. I’m not clear on this, but I think my screams were muffled by one of the other boys with his hands. I know tears streamed down my face, I remember my reflection when I finally got home: the tears were streaked down my dirty cheeks.

After they hurt me, they left on my hands and knees, sobbing. This all happened on the front lawn of someone's house, in broad daylight. From someone's window, did it all just look like some kids just fooling around? Did anyone see what happened to me? I hoped no one did. I didn’t want anyone to know about this, because of the shame I felt at this terrible violation. I picked up my lunchbox and walked home. I was in so much pain. I was humiliated and ashamed.

I got home and told no one. Ever. Until today, writing this.

My testicles hurt for weeks after that. I would lay in bed at night and feel them throbbing. They were bruised and swollen, making it difficult to run. But I soldiered through, and lied to everyone about how I was feeling.

I could never have told my father what happened, and telling my mother was telling my father by proxy. My father would have offered no sympathy.

"How could you let someone do that to you?" he would have asked, as if it were all my fault.

I don't even know if I had the words back then to describe what had happened to me. I certainly did not know why this had happened. Looking back, I think about the way Mike targeted my testicles so efficiently. Even a fifteen year old sadist had to learn that from somewhere. He didn't just come up with that. Years later I would wonder if Mike's permanently furrowed brow wasn’t born of confusion, but of pain caused by abuse.

I would often wonder why I was targeted. I found no answers, of course. This was a crime of opportunity, I was weak, and Mike needed to hurt someone. Perhaps he did this to other victims as well, but I don’t know. I never really saw him again. I have no idea what became of him. I hope he’s a better person.

The next day, at lunch, came the final indignity to this whole affair. I was sitting in the lunchroom, eating my sandwich and drinking milk from my thermos, when suddenly my mouth was full of broken bits of glass. I choked and spit out blood. I walked to the water fountain and spit blood and glass out, rinsing my mouth. The day before, when I had hit Mike with my lunchbox, I had shattered the glass inside my Hot Wheels thermos. Now that glass was in my mouth and my throat.

That night I had to tell my mother about the broken thermos, and listen to her tell me about how I should take better care of my things.


  1. that was a sad story Steve and it was probley hard to tell but your a better man for telling it ..I was somewhat bullied myself when I was young although not in the same way I was bullied by one of my teachers I remember he used to punch me in the stomach and even choked me but it was brushed off by other staff ( I handled it a few years later although not feeling good about it later ) no one knew about me being bulled ...heck most of those times I came into atomic I just got done fighting bullies that's how I learned to fight ...but thank you for the stories ..and friendship

    1. I also "learned to fight" because of bullies. I'm heartened by the anti-bullying crusades I see today. Maybe kids in the future won't have to deal with as much of this.

  2. I am very grateful to you for writing this, triggers notwithstanding. It's humane and compassionate of you to consider that your abuser might have a history of being a target of abuse himself, although of course that excuses nothing that he did to you. Equally damaging, as you point out, is the victim-blaming by your parents and other adults. The violent enforcement of social hierarchies is part and parcel of rape culture, and it is insidious. You can "stand up for yourself" at your grave peril, and if you don't your silence is taken as endorsement of the status quo and the systems that keep it in place. I am so sorry this happened to you—to anyone, really—and hope you find all the support you need to heal.

  3. Everything I want to say sounds so trite. My heart is broken. It's hard to be a boy. I am so sorry this happened to you.

  4. Steve, thank you for sharing this. I hope you have benefitted from the telling as much as I'm sure others will benefit from hearing about your experience.

  5. When I was nine years old, I was molested (for lack of a better word) by a girl two years older than me for about two months. She was a foster child who lived with us. I never told anyone about this until I was well into adulthood, and then it was just my husband. I told my mother last year. I felt that she was extremely dismissive about the whole thing. Offered what I call a "fauxpology," and then changed the subject to other things. On some level I think I always knew that I could not count on any real empathy from her.

    I, too, deduced that the foster girl had been abused. Even as a child I understood that she must have learned it from somewhere. It's been over 30 years and I wonder whatever became of her. My parents were less than nice to her even without knowing what she had done to me. They never should have been given foster kids. I think they only did it for the money.